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The rise of the influencer

Go back 30 years, most of us were happy enough watching adverts on our TVs. Companies shamelessly peddled their wares, and it had the desired cause-and-effect: the more they promoted, the more we bought.  

Then we stopped responding. Not immediately, but the buying numbers steadily dropped, regardless of how incessant the adverts. The issue was trust. We no longer believed anything and everything the marketers told us, and ‘mute’ became the most worn button on the TV remote. 

The internet changed the game 

With the advent of the internet and social media, businesses found more authentic ways to reach consumers: through third parties. Third parties are entities and individuals that speak about products and services but are not directly affiliated with the brand they endorse (or damn).  

Third-party endorsement is a tried and tested PR strategy from ‘way back.’  At a simplistic level, this strategy is about getting ‘others’ to sing your praises, rather than doing it yourself.  Getting a story in the news media, encouraging online reviews, developing customer testimonials are all typical examples of third party endorsements.   

Then came the influencer 

Influencers are the individuals who have cultivated a dedicated following based on their expertise, authenticity, or relatability. Their endorsements and recommendations carry weight due to their perceived credibility and trustworthiness. 

Someone with deep knowledge of influencers is Zoe Virtue, the Head of Group Social at DDB Group & Mango Communications. She knows the marketing power of influencers, and the pitfalls of engaging them.  

“The use of celebrities has been used in marketing for decades, but social media has changed the game completely. Now anyone can amass an audience and grow a following.  

“New Zealander Simone Anderson is the perfect example. She just started documenting her weight loss journey on Instagram, and over a period where she dropped 92kgs, grew a following of over 300,000 people. 

“She’s an example of the types of individuals that business brands are looking to engage with - people who are trusted, liked and followed.”  

Nano, micro, macro and mega 

Like any ecosystem, the world of influencers is filled with different species:  

  • Nano-Influencers: Small but highly engaged followership within specific niches. Under 10,000 followers. 

  • Micro-Influencers: Moderately sized followings with high engagement rates. 10,000-100,000 followers. 

  • Macro-Influencers: Large followings, often reaching wider audiences. 100,000 to 1M followers. 

  • Mega-Influencers: Millions of followers, mainstream audiences across various demographics and geographies.  Over 1M followers. 

Jamie Batters is the digital PR content coordinator for PR firm HMC. Jamie says every influencer has their place and niche benefits they can provide. 

“Aside from the classic macro influencers, you have what we call content creators.  These people are passionate about creating great photos, videos, and comedic content. They have influence because people love what they produce.  TikTok, in particular, has provided the perfect platform for these content creators.  

“Then you have influencers who do a great job ‘offline’ as well – think, athletes and musicians and actors. These people are well known outside of their social platforms.   

“Each type of influencer or content creator requires a different PR approach to leverage their influence.” 

Why do influencers work? 

For Zoe, the clue lies in the rise of reality TV. 

“It’s human nature to be interested in the lives of other people. They can be an overseas celebrity or your next-door neighbour. We’re curious as to how other people live their lives, like the All Blacks, or the All Black WAGs.  

“When we relate to the people we’re watching, that’s where their influence is exerted. If they share a point of view, we’re predisposed to taking it on. If they try a product and they tell us it has made their life better, we’re more likely to follow them down that product road. Why? Because we trust these influencers.” 

Using an influencer is not simple 

Going back a few years, attaching a celebrity to a product amounted to TV commercials and a series of billboards. It was a bolt-on affair without need of deep substance. That doesn’t work anymore. Consumers deplore inauthentic endorsements and can spot any misalignment between brand and influencer. 

For Zoe, there are several crucial factors that businesses need to manage if they’re going to link their product or service to the right influencer.  

“I always stop businesses from jumping straight to the question of, ‘Who do we partner with?’ That’s not the starting point. The first questions are: What are we trying to achieve with this activity? Then, who are we talking to and what do we want them to do? Are we trying to build awareness with them? Do we want them to swipe and purchase a product? 

“Once you establish these parameters, you can then ask, what type of content do we need to create to hit that objective? And where are our target audiences consuming their content? Is it on TikTok? Instagram?  

“Only after you’ve started to build a strategic approach to your content can you begin to ask, what influencer will align with all these factors and resonate with our audience?” 

Crunching the numbers 

Let’s say you’ve answered the strategic questions and have landed on a list of influencers who could, with authenticity, bridge the gap between your products and potential customers. How do you choose between them?  

It often comes down to numbers – who has the better following, the highest engagement. The problem is, we live in an age where these stats can be artificially inflated. Zoe explains how her company cuts through the fiction. 

“Because followings can be faked, stats are crucial. We do a deep dive into the analytics to examine the authenticity of an influencer’s engagement.  We apply media metrics and measurements to learn their true CPMs and CPVs. The reason we do this is to establish the likely return on investment with a specific influencer.” 

Personal bias 

When choosing an influencer to align with your company brand and objectives, there is one factor that definitely should NOT come into the decision: personal preference. In Zoe’s years of engaging influencers, perfect candidates have been crossed off the list because someone high up in head office person didn’t like them. 

“I understand that we may not like a certain influencer for whatever reason, but our liking them is not relevant. The relevant question is, will the target audience like them? I have seen many potential partnerships and great opportunities shot down because a senior leader chose personal opinion over marketing objectivity. It can be frustrating.” 

Non-social third-party endorsement remains important 

With the rise of social media influencers and content creators, do other types of third-party endorsement still have a role to play? 

HMC Managing Director Heather Claycomb says the full breadth of third-party endorsement is still an incredibly important PR strategy that works for nearly every organisation. 

“Third-party endorsement is still one of the most powerful public relations strategies out there.  Every organisation should be thinking about how they build this strategy into their PR execution.” 

Some typical third-party endorsement tactics many brands can easily execute include: 

  • A regular stream of media stories – include niche industry media and mainstream 

  • Developing testimonials and case studies 

  • Entering industry awards 

  • Encouraging expert comments about your products or services 

  • Gaining reviews – on your website, Google Reviews, Glassdoor employment/company reviews 

  • Gaining certification, accreditation or a ‘seal of approval’ from independent industry organisations 

  • Gathering employee testimonials 


“One thing is for sure: third-party endorsement is a PR strategy that is here to stay.  The reason for that is because it works!  And now, with social and digital media being so important to the way we live, communicate and engage as communities, these social influencers are incredibly important to include in your PR mix.”